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Extra $9.8m to extend hotel stays for homeless, help find them a home

They have called for 60,000 additional social housing units over the next decade, arguing the state has the lowest proportion of social housing stock in Australia at 3.2 per cent of all housing, compared with the national average of 4.5 per cent.

An estimated 80,000 people are waiting for public housing in Victoria.

Housing Minister Richard Wynne told The Age the further $9.8 million would be spent to keep homeless people in their current accommodation and plan their pathway into long-term housing.

Mr Wynne said homelessness emergency accommodation response teams would “triage” people living in hotels and assist them to connect to local services that will help them find stable housing.

“Some of that might be in the private rental market, some people may in fact be able to reunite with family,” Mr Wynne said.

He said the government was also looking at using 200 beds in former aged care centres – which had been set aside during lockdown for homeless people who contracted COVID-19 or needed to self isolate – to accommodate those who had other health conditions.

Colin Johnstone is relieved his stay at a serviced apartment will be extended while he searches for long-term housing.

Colin Johnstone is relieved his stay at a serviced apartment will be extended while he searches for long-term housing.Credit:Scott McNaughton

“We think that is a good interim measure we are taking but really with a very clear focus that we want to use this unique opportunity, having stabilised people, to actually now explore how to support people out of homelessness.”

Colin Johnstone, who has been living in a serviced apartment after homelessness organisation Launch Housing found him sleeping rough in the city in March, said the extension “takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders”.

He said he was constantly going “into stress mode” about whether the funding would run out before he found somewhere permanent to live.

“I know with myself I wouldn’t survive the cold in the winter with my heart.”

Council to Homeless Persons chief executive Jenny Smith said extending support for temporary accommodation was very welcome.

“Right now we have an enormous opportunity to end rough sleeping in Victoria, by keeping people without a home in safe accommodation and supporting them into long-term housing,” she said.

“But it will only be possible to avoid people leaving hotels and going back into homelessness at the end of July if government provides access to housing that people can afford, as well as support for people to transition to a long-term tenancy and to maintain it.”

Last month the Victorian government announced a $500 million package to build 168 new social housing units and upgrade 23,000 rundown units.

Homelessness groups welcomed the package, but said 6000 units would need to be built every year for a decade to get Victoria to the national average of 4.5 per cent social housing.

Mr Wynne said the government was “well aware of the advocacy of housing groups in relation to the question of supply”.

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“The simple truth is our provision is at 3.2 per cent and the government is well aware of that challenge,” Mr Wynne told The Age.

Opposition housing spokesman Tim Smith said Victoria should be investing in social and public housing like the rest of the country.

“Stopgap measures are all well and good but they are not a permanent solution,” he said.

Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said the COVID-19 crisis had shown the government can provide secure housing to communities when it actually made it a priority, and solving homelessness was possible.

“Let’s invest in a big build of public housing and commit to creating 100,000 new homes over the next 15 years,” she said. This would not only tackle homelessness, but would also stimulate our economy and create much-needed jobs.”

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